When and Why Outpatient Surgery May be Your Best Option

Say the word “surgery,” and a busy hospital operating room may come to mind. The image might include a patient being wheeled down a long hallway to the awaiting surgical team, suited and gloved, ready to operate.

But these days, the reality is that the majority of surgeries take place on an outpatient basis, which means they don’t occur in a hospital O.R. and they don’t require an overnight hospital stay. Typically, they’re performed in the ambulatory (non-inpatient) part of the hospital, a freestanding ambulatory surgical center (ASC), or in a doctor’s office. For most procedures, patients are released between one to four hours after surgery to recover in their homes. Surgeons who perform procedures in ASC settings have the same credentials and qualifications as those who work in hospitals, and often, they operate in both locations.

Thanks to the many advances in minimally invasive surgical techniques and improvements in anesthesia, many orthopedic surgeries can now be performed in outpatient settings. These outpatient-friendly procedures include surgeries to address insufficiency (stress) fractures and bone lesions, rotator cuff repairs, and joint preservation or replacement of the shoulder, wrist, knee, and toe, among others.

Is an Outpatient Setting Right for You?

Where your procedure occurs will depend on many factors that your surgeon will carefully weigh before making a final recommendation. Here are some general criteria used to determine whether someone is a good candidate for outpatient surgery.

  • Age: Younger, more active patients tend to do better in outpatient settings, but age alone is not a disqualifier. While some elderly patients may have underlying medical issues that make surgery riskier, there are plenty of healthy older patients who do well in ambulatory surgical settings.
  • Medical history: A history of illnesses such as stroke, heart disease, and lung disease may reduce your chances of a having a procedure done on an outpatient basis.
  • The complexity of the surgery and the aftercare: The less complicated the surgery, the more likely it will be done in an outpatient hospital setting. Your surgeon will also weigh whether or not post-operative care can be easily managed at home and the risk of post-surgery complications.

The Benefits of Outpatient vs. Inpatient

There are several advantages to having your orthopedic procedure performed in an ambulatory setting. First, these surgeries are easier to schedule. The schedules for hospital operating rooms are sometimes unpredictable because an emergency operation can often bump non-emergent surgeries. Additionally, inpatient surgeries, which are often more complex, may take longer than anticipated, so your procedure could end up beginning later than scheduled.

Many people also find it more convenient and less stressful to recover in the comfort of their own homes. The day of your procedure, plan to have someone else drive you home.  And don’t be surprised if afterwards you feel tired and/or dizzy and have muscle aches, a sore throat, or nausea. These symptoms can last for a couple of days. 

Having surgery in an outpatient setting can make the whole experience less stressful and more convenient, while yielding the same excellent results. So, if you’re considering an orthopedic procedure, ask your doctor if an outpatient setting is right for you.

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